The way Democratic leaders tell it, their party's current "enthusiasm gap" comes from rank-and-file voters who are irrational and pessimistic complainers.
"Democrats, just congenitally, tend to (see) the glass as half empty," President Barack Obama said last month during a $30,000-a-plate fundraiser at the Connecticut home of a donor named (no joke) Rich Richman. Days later, Vice President Joe Biden told a separate audience of donors that voters need "to stop whining." Apparently, the two believe that a mix of Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake" motto and Phil Gramm's "nation of whiners" mantra will excite the Democratic base.
Who knows? Maybe it'll work. But probably not. The sight of Washington politicians attending fat-cat fundraisers while berating a recession-hammered nation is not exactly inspiring. It's more like a recipe for electoral backlash.
That said, this campaign season is defined neither by unreasonable petulance, as the White House asserts, nor by justifiable rage against the plutocratic machine. Instead, the moment is all about the more muted despondence expressed by that recent CNBC town hall speaker – the one who told the president that voters are "exhausted" and "deeply disappointed" in his administration.
The desperation is understandable. The Iraq war continues, and the Afghanistan war is intensifying. The Wall Street "reform" bill has been exposed as a sham, with the Associated Press reporting that banks are already planning to exploit the new rules for even more profits. Meanwhile, Obama aides admit that the new health care legislation coddles the industries it purports to regulate.
"During the campaign we fought against insurance companies," White House adviser David Axelrod said about the Obama-crafted bill. "(But) after the deals with insurance companies, the deals with Pharma – all these people are supposedly our friends."
As Axelrod's comment implies, this is not "real change" or "yes we can" – it's the demoralizing status quo of "no we won't." And few disappointments better underscore that reality than the recent non-debate over the Bush tax cuts.
Since those tax reductions were enacted, Democrats have – rightly – criticized them as ineffective economic policy that unduly expands the national debt. The data support the allegations: The Bush tax-cut years were "one of the weakest eight-year spans for the U.S. economy in decades," according to The Washington Post, and the tax cuts are the single largest factor in the deficit, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Americans understand these facts, as evidenced by polls showing majority support for eliminating the specific tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. In fact, when considering both public opinion and Democrats' previous criticism of Bush's tax policy, it's clear that opposition to the Bush tax cuts was a primary reason voters elected Democrats in the first place.
And yet, this week, the White House and Democratic congressional leaders announced they are postponing any legislation that might permanently modify the Bush tax cuts.
That's right, we're not talking about Democrats deliberately letting all the cuts expire – Democratic lawmakers say they will extend the cuts for the middle class. The issue is whether they will simultaneously deliver on promises to terminate the tax cuts that apply to income above $200,000. On that pledge, the party is now blocking a vote.
No doubt, Democratic politicians would have us believe that Republican obstructionism makes a vote pointless and that those saying otherwise are back to "glass half empty" whining. This, of course, has been the same excuse on nearly every issue.
But who are the self-defeating whiners here – politicians who don't even attempt to fulfill their own promises, or voters who expect those politicians to at least make a minimal effort? The honest answer to that question shows who is really responsible for the enthusiasm gap.